Friday, August 26, 2011

RA's Invade Unity House

Today the 2011-2012 RA's (Resident Life staff members) visited Unity House for cookies and chat.  We got off to a literal bang when Heather noticed the RA's assembling in front of the screen door. Unfortunately, she didn't notice the screen in the door, and as she ran full tilt to greet folks, she bounced into and off of the screen, bending the frame.  I was so flustered I didn't take a photo. But it all worked out. Eli Walker, a returning RA, pushed the door back into shape with his mighty muscles and used a pair of pliers to even out the bent frame. 

But that wasn't the first faux pas of the day. Earlier, I had somehow burnt the bottoms of the first batch of cookies to go in the oven. A dozen emergency S'mores (recipe below) helped to make up for the sadness of burnt cookies.

Everyone was very gracious about my cookie problem, and everyone seemed to find something interesting about Unity House.  For some folks it was the re-arrangable Flor carpeting, or the folding wall between the living area and the guest room; for others it was Stephen's Mac and double monitor set up. Eve and Becca both liked my little espresso machine.

The RAs have been in training this week, and from what I heard today, we might call it "social sustainability training": they learn how to establish and nurture sustainable social environments in the residence halls.  Sustainable social environments are built to last because they are built on shared community standards -- including respect for differences.

Our Director of Residence Life, Steve Nason, provides RAs with strategies for creating those shared community standards on each residence hall floor, like the "Pick Five" exercise, when residents choose the top five of a list of fifteen possible community standards.  Under his guidance, the RA's also run a program on roommate expectations.  Open communication about expectations is another key to sustainable group living. Check out Steve's work on a definition of sustainability for his professional organization for more thoughts on this topic.

Sustainable relationships can be intentionally created. Making conscious choices about one's attitude is a part of this.  As RA Ryan Morrison says, "Optimism rubs off." Here, Heather, the screen door buster, seems optimistic that she might get some of Shyra's cookie.

Meeting bright, enthusiastic, caring young people -- like this year's group of RA's -- always raises my level of optimism about the future.  Maybe this generation's values about conservation, environment and community will be built for the long run, be more sustainable than my generations' values. And maybe next time I won't burn the cookies.

Emergency S'mores

 10 Graham Crackers

2 Chocolate Bars

5 Marshmallows

1. Break the Graham Crackers in half. Place ten on a cookie sheet; reserve the other ten.

2. Break the chocolate bars into ten pieces. Place the chocolate pieces

on top of the graham crackers.

3. Cut the marshmallows in half with a scissors. Place one marshmallow half on top of each cracker, over the chocolate pieces.

4. Bake for about 4 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the marshmallows soften and begin to melt.

5. Remove from oven and top each marshmallow with a reserved graham cracker half to make a sandwich. Squish the crackers together to spread the marshmallow.

6. Eat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back in the Day with Arlene Constable Schaefer

Unity College Trustee Arlene Constable Schaefer stopped by today for lunch.  The weather was dreary, but we were cheered by cardinals and goldfinches out on the birdfeeder, a sweet peach-blueberry cobbler (blueberries courtesy of Monica Murphy at CrossTrax) and some warm conversation.

Arlene is the daughter of Eddie and Florine Constable, the generous people who donated the land our campus sits on today. The Constable family were leaders in the poultry industry, and our campus was once a farm where -- literally -- millions of chicks were hatched.

Arlene grew up in what is now Constable Hall (the front portion of the house on the right side of the above photo).  Her childhood was full of fun, she says, but she had few playmates because Unity was a very small town back then  -- although she did have a few favorite chickens she raised by hand.

We chuckled over the irony that her family's farm is now overrun with young people during the school year.  While Unity College has not yet graduated -- literally -- millions of students, we have educated tens of thousands of environmental stewards and leaders who have touched the lives of millions of people.

Arlene's parents continued to reside in Unity after they donated their land to the college.  In the 1970's, when Florine Constable became ill, the couple began to take their evening meal in the college cafeteria.  In 1979, some students inquired about the identity of the older couple, and learning of Eddie and Florine's contribution to the college, they got up a petition to insure that the Constables could dine for free whenever they wished at the Unity College Cafeteria. Arlene still has that petition; it is on view in the scrapbook she donated to our library.

Curiosity, committment and compassion are still hallmarks of Unity students.  Maybe they inherited it from Arlene, who carries on her family's dedication and generosity as a member of the college's board of trustees, and as an active member of the Rotary Club, the Unity Barn Raisers, and other local organizations.  It was an honor and a pleasure to spend time with her over lunch today.

Monday, August 8, 2011

In the Garden with Rachel Mestas

During the transition between presidents, some of the gardens at Unity House became a bit overgrown.  I weeded the two flower gardens directly in front of the house, but the area inside the driveway circle needed professional help. Rachel Mestas, a 2009 graduate of Unity with a degree in Environmental Policy, was clearly the woman for the job.

Rachel has worked at various jobs since her graduation, always on the lookout for a full-time environmental policy position.  Like many recent college graduates and workers everywhere, she’s been affected by the recession, but she remains optimistic -- and passionate about current issues in environmental politics.

I’ve have no doubt that she will reach her goals. As a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Rachel knows how to weather a storm.  An environmental activist in the community of Gulfport, Mississippi for many years, she knew she had found the right educational institution when a friend told her about Unity College. But her path here was disrupted by a natural disaster of epic proportions.

In 2O05, Rachel was accepted at Unity College and completed her Nova Wilderness Orientation experience that summer. She returned to her home in Gulfport, and then Hurricane Katrina hit. Rachel feels fortunate that she did not lose any family members during the storm, but the storm literally flooded her out of the home she owned in Gulfport. Her story of survival is both courageous and poetic. I was struck with her description of the storm’s violence, how it ate away at her home piece by piece.  But I was struck even more by her description of how the storm, once it had passed and knocked out all human-engineered power, left her neighborhood in complete silence, under a brilliantly starry night sky. “I never knew there were so many stars,” she said.

Rachel lived in a FEMA trailer for months as she worked to repair the damage to her house. Like many people who experienced the devastation of Katrina, she felt consumed by the storm’s destruction and the need to set things right. Then one day a friend’s words brought her out of that fog and reminded her of what she had intended to do – complete her education at Unity College.  She enrolled in classes the following autumn, and graduated in 2009.

Here in August of 2011, in the course of just a few days, Rachel took on another big repair job and transformed the garden in the driveway so that its original plan was visible.  I love how the line of rocks through the center section mimics the flow of a riverbed. 

Rachel sees many functions for Unity House, but most important to her is how Unity House symbolizes the college’s ideal of sustainability – its efforts “to live in agreement with nature,” as she puts it.

“When we’re in the middle of something and can’t see our way out, that’s when we need each other,” Rachel says.  Listening to her, I’m reminded of a phrase from my bartending days when we used to say we were “in the weeds” when we were overwhelmed by customers and needed help.  Thanks to Rachel for getting us out of the weeds here!   

August Leadership Retreat

On August 3, Stephen hosted the annual Leadership Retreat here at Unity House. 

The Leadership Retreat group, which included V.P. Bill Trumbull and V.P. for Development Rob Constantine, used their time here to hone the College's its vision for the future.

Rita (of Rita's Catering and Unity House of Pizza) provided a delicious lunch for everyone.

At the end of the day, the people were invigorated and ready for the upcoming academic year. Heather, though, was exhausted by all of the hard work and needed a break.